Co-operative Party Conference: Reports

Delegates at the 2o15 Co-operative Party Conference heard reports from Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the youth committee. Westminster Report Introducing the Westminster report, Gavin...

Delegates at the 2o15 Co-operative Party Conference heard reports from Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the youth committee.

Westminster Report

Introducing the Westminster report, Gavin Shuker, chair of the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group said the movement needed to be represented in parliament more than ever. He added that along with the Labour Party losing the election came a lost opportunity to put co-operative principles in governance.

A number of Labour and Co-operative MPs lost their seats in the election, including Tom Greatrex, Ian Davidson, Gemma Doyle, Andy Sawford, Cathy Jamieson and Ed Balls.

But the Co-operative Party did win some seats, including Anna Turley in Redcar and Rachael Maskell in York, who was recently appointed to Labour’s frontbench as shadow defence minister.

Throughout 2014 the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group called for the establishment of an Armed Forces credit union. Gareth Thomas MP and Lord Kennedy held parliamentary debates on the subject and met with government ministers to build cross-party support for the initiative. With the government agreeing to set up a UK equivalent of the Navy Federal credit union, the Party will continue to work with the Association of British Credit Unions and the Ministry of Defence to help in the implementation process, said Mr Shuker.

Former Labour and Co-operative MP Meg Munn campaigned for support for co-operative schools in parliament, seeking cross-party consensus in favour of amendments to the de-regulation bill. These amendments would enable schools to set up as legal co-operatives, under the new Co-operative Consolidation Act. The bill will be debated in the House of Lords in 2015.

Other bills introduced by Labour and Co-operative MPs included the Co-operative and Social Enterprise (Development) bill, which required local enterprise partnerships responsible for supporting regional economic growth to have at least one member who is a social enterprise business specialist. The bill failed to complete its passage through parliament before the end of the session.

Two ten-minute rule bills were also introduced by Labour and Co-operative MPs in 2014. Former MP Andy Sawford introduced a ten-minute rule bill promoting co-operative and mutual solutions in rail policy while Gareth Thomas introduced a ten minute rule bill to establish a credit union for NHS workers.

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as the new Labour leader in September, six Labour and Co-operative MPs were included in the shadow cabinet, with another five in shadow ministerial roles. Mr Shuker said the party’s parliamentary group would participate in the debates on the finance bill, which will be discussed in the coming months. The Labour and Co-operative MPs also intend to be active on promoting community energy and a mutual rail bill.

He said:The values of co-operation, self-responsibility, democracy, equity solidarity are not of the past, they’re of the future. Let’s build that future together.”

Youth Report

Katie Corrigan at the Co-operative Party Annual Conference in London. Photograph: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party
Katie Corrigan at the Co-operative Party Annual Conference in London. Photograph: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party

Katie Corrigan, member of the Co-operative Party’s national executive committee for youth presented the report from youth members. Over the past year young members of the Party have taken to the streets to campaign alongside candidates and attended student co-operative events and conferences. Youth members have also promoted credit union alternatives on campus as a fairer alternative to payday lenders. In the coming year the youth committee will focus on engaging with the wider co-operative movement, particularly students and co-operative schools.

Report from the Welsh Assembly

Vaughan Gething. Photograph: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party
Vaughan Gething, AM for Cardiff South and Penarth. Photograph: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party

Next year Wales will elect a new National Assembly. The elections will be an opportunity for the Co-operative Party to get more Assembly Members, says AM Vaughan Gething, who represents Cardiff South and Penarth. Speaking at the Co-operative Party conference, Mr Gething said the Welsh Labour government had committed to promote co-operatives. The Welsh manifesto includes a commitment to housing co-operatives.

“This will build on the government’s work on promoting and protecting housing,” he said. In 2014 the Welsh government passed the Housing Act, which contains specific provisions to support co-operative housing. More than 20 new pioneering co-operative housing schemes are underway in Wales.

Through the 2014 Social Services and Well-being Act, local authorities have the duty to support the development of co-operative and preventive services. The government is looking to implement the recommendations of the Welsh Co-operative Commission and is providing greater support to the Wales Co-operative Centre to help grow co-operatives in new sectors as well as in succession planning and procurement. Co-ops also now have increased representation on the Business Wales Strategic Board. Credit unions are also on the Welsh government’s agenda; in 2014 the government announced a further £1.2m in funding to support credit unions in Wales while also backing a campaign against loan sharks.

According to Mr Gething, there is a great opportunity for co-operatives and mutuals to win franchises for rail, buses and metros.

“We should be confident in our values and look forward to next May. Wales is an example of what can be done when the government is committed to these values. I look forward to Wales still being a co-operative nation next May,” said Mr Gething.

Report from the Scottish Parliament

In August, the Labour Party elected Kezia Dugdale as the new leader for Scotland. The Labour and Co-operative MSP won the contest with a 72% majority and had previously served as deputy leader under Jim Murphy, who resigned in June. She aims to rebuild the party in the run-up to next May’s election. The Labour Party currently has 38 MSPs, four of whom are Labour and Co-operative.

In 2014, Labour and Co-operative MSPs campaigned for a not-for-profit people’s railway. James Kelly MSP also proposed amendments to the Procurement (Scotland) bill to improve the opportunities for co-operatives and mutuals to win public sector contracts. However the amendments were not accepted by the Scottish government.

Former Scottish Labour leader, Labour and Co-operative MSP Johann Lamont, also established Labour’s devolution commission, which committed to further co-operation in Scotland by promoting the co-operative council model, community energy co-ops and the potential for co-operatively run enterprises in social care and childcare.

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